Awestruck by the Wonders of the Thai Jungle

By Jessica Van Antwerp, Founder of Integral Travel

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One of the greatest gifts in life is seeing wild animals in their natural habitats, acting naturally, unfettered by civilization or a cage in a zoo.

Last year, I was in Thailand, living with wonderful folks in a floating bamboo village,surrounded by wild jungle, doing yoga and swimming in the lake every day. We saw a plethora of jungle life, from the great hornbill birds and monkeys, to wild boar and even a tapir. But the most elusive creatures, despite their massive size, were the elephants. By day three of our stay in the jungle, our entire group was taken by this fervor to see elephants in the wild.

Every night, we’d hear them trumpet and crash around as they traveled through the surrounding jungle. And each morning, getting up before sunrise, we’d strike out in canoes, exploring nearby inlets in the hopes of catching a glimpse. We sat in those canoes for hours KNOWING they were just inside the edge of the dense foliage. The loud snap of bamboo stalks being broken and eaten punctuated the consistent white noise of the other jungle sounds. Our hearts leapt when they trumpeted, and we could even hear them breathing.

Yoga in a group.jpeg

Every time we saw the brush move, we thought “This is it. They’re coming out!”The anticipation was almostunbearable. And yet, morning after morning, we dutifully returned for a tranquil yoga practice before breakfast, unfulfilled, as the rest of the group surrounded us in hopeful excitement of a positive sighting 

Despite each day’s dashed hopes, I had this nagging feeling that we were going to see elephants that week...and that we wouldn’t have to go very far to do so…

Elephants are incredibly intelligent creatures - one of 10 species on the planet that rival human intelligence. They have a very keen sense of smell and an aversion to humans. Those two things together mean that humans only see wild elephants at the will of the elephants.

On our last night, the moon was full and bright, the night was warm…and the elephants were so loud they woke everyone up...and kept everyone up through the night. They were SO close to our village. We had one more morning, our last opportunity to see these gentle giants before departing our jungle home!

Because of our shared sleep deprivation, only about half of our group elected to go in search of the elephants on this morning. We quietly paddled into the inlet just behind a row of our floating cabins. As on all of our other mornings, we sat there enraptured, anticipation running high. We could hear the snap of bamboo stalks being broken. We could see the tops of the stalks shaking, then dropping 5 or 6 feet as they were being brought down.

We had learned though, from those other mornings, that we could sit there for hours with no sighting. And the time had come for our morning yoga practice. As my canoe partner was our yoga teacher and I was the leader of the group, we had no other choice but to return. Trying to shake the feeling of missing something, we headed in.

We saw the other half of our group sitting in the cabin windows, hoping for the same thing we were! We seized the opportunity to ask them if we could do yoga practice a little later on this morning. With everyone in agreement, we turned our canoe back around to head into the bay of the lake.

As we were about halfway back into the inlet, the first elephant lumbered out sleepily out of the jungle. My hand shot up in the air in a silent “YESSSS!!!!” An elephant isn’t just big…it’s glorious, majestic and otherworldly. I was awestruck, totally immersed in the beauty of the moment watching this elephant descend into the water and splash itself a few times with its enormous trunk. Enraptured by this sight, I was equally as awestruck when a second elephant emerged, following the first down into the water for a morning drink and shower. As the first was climbing up the steep bank on the other side of the inlet, a third elephant emerged - a baby! And then another! 4 elephants! An entire family.The last one was a young adolescent male - we could see the beginnings of his tusks. One-by-one, they dipped into the water, splashed themselves and had a drink before continuing up the next bank, disappearing into the jungle.

I was so lost in the magic of the moment that I almost forgot to pick up my camera and take pictures!

 The whole experience lasted maybe five minutes. But those are five minutes that I will remember for the rest of my life.

kelsey bumsted